How a Banana Helped Shape Dawson’s Community & Culture

Modern learning concepts are illustratively woven throughout our quarterly seventh-grade genius hour insights course, a class where students working in small, collaborative teams apply the design-thinking process to solve real-world problems challenging our community. Students use their agency and important critical-thinking skills to identify a unique learning path and discover outcomes based upon one simple challenge: How can we all work together, in partnership, to make Dawson a better place?
Modern learning, a philosophy Dawson applies when evolving our curriculum and classroom experiences, involves looking at the world and its global challenges through a lens of curiosity, creativity, and innovation. With the ever-changing landscape of education, this means teachers must use the most current techniques and methods proven to help students become true independent learners, thinkers, and problem solvers, all while navigating seismic shifts within long-standing pedagogical practices.  

“Genius hour is a perfect example of competency-based education, where community partnerships are at the heart of the learning experience,” says Head of School Roxanne Stansbury. “When students engage in the interactive process of design thinking, they quickly realize that their analysis of campus problems and their ideation about solutions requires resourceful teamwork and support from many different people.” 

During the fall semester, seventh grader Ausum K. saw the broken banana sculpture on campus as a community issue that needed to be addressed. For Ausum, the damage inflicted upon this beloved piece of art directly impacted Dawson’s Climate of Care, a strategic goal essential for building reciprocal partnerships steeped in thoughtfulness and mindfulness. “A lot of people care about the banana and were affected when it broke,” Ausum explains. “The banana has been at Dawson for a very long time so it is a big (part of our) culture. The broken banana hurts our culture.” 

Modern learning is largely a paradigm shift toward students taking an active role in discovering how to become experts themselves, often taking the lead and setting the pace for their individual educational journey. Initially, Dawson administrators and visual arts teachers contacted professional artists around the country for help with the restoration, yet this step proved unsuccessful; many said it couldn’t be done and others wanted to charge too much money. So Ausum did what any Dawson student would do: he identified the problem, researched how to solve it, and then went to work reconstructing the banana on his own. He researched the materials initially used to build it, consulted our campus maintenance team about how to reconstruct the broken portion, and worked with visual arts teacher Hung Le to learn more about the outdoor mosaic technique used in crafting the sculpture. “The hole in the banana was patched up by mesh,” says Ausum of his hard work. “A cement mortar made the patch stronger and, finally, the broken ties were glued back on.” 

“Ausum tackled a big problem all by himself,” says genius hour teacher Alex Villalta. “He is incredibly selfless. He showed exceptional determination and a great deal of consideration for others. I am proud of the young man Ausum is becoming; he is an inspiration to our entire community and has left a lasting impression upon all of his classmates.” 

A curriculum inspired by modern learning allows students the opportunity to discover their voice and advocate for what is important, ethical, and empathetic. Adds Head of School Roxanne Stansbury, “The advocacy Ausum displayed is an important 21st-century skill. We teach our students to identify the people who can help them achieve their goals. We hire teachers and model for students the importance of being able to learn from others.” 

Students being given the space to pave a personalized path toward who they are and a vision for how they want to be seen in the future is an essential piece of the Dawson Difference. 

By Rachael Lachhwani
Advancement Manager

Originally published in Dawson's Fall + Winter 2020-2021 Petroglyph Magazine


The Alexander Dawson School

The Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain, an independent school located on 33-acres in the community of Summerlin, is Nevada’s first Stanford University Challenge Success partner school for students in early childhood through grade eight. Utilizing the unique Challenge Success framework, Dawson uses research-based strategies and programs that emphasize student academics, wellbeing, and a healthy school-life balance to create more engaged, motivated, and resilient learners and leaders. At Dawson, students achieve their individual potential while savoring life and meeting the challenges of the world.